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Commissioners bicker over vacation benefits

By Dawn Burleigh

dawn.burleigh@orangeleader.com

 

Orange County Commissioners Court proclaimed September 2016 as National Suicide Prevention Month during the Tuesday afternoon meeting.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. There are 117 suicides in America daily, and, for every one of those, there are 25 attempts, according to Spindletop Center Facebook page.

“We want to remind people that suicide is preventable,” a Spindletop representative said. “We have a toll free number which we advertise on our website, social media and health fairs. If you can’t get to us, we can get to you within an hour.”

The 24-hour toll free hotline is 1-800-937-9087.

The court also approved in a three-two vote to change the vacation benefits for employees hired on or after October 1, 2016.

Commissioner John Banken said he disagreed with the changes and the policy should remain the same.

“We should keep policy 311,” Banken said. “These employees should get their vacation. There is no overtime and no cost to the county.”

County Judge Stephen ‘Brint’ Carlton said under the current policy a person could be off two and half months a year between the 13 paid holidays and four weeks vacation.

“It is not fair to the taxpayers,” Carlton said.

Banken argued the county appeared to not have the money unless someone on the court wanted something.

“Unless someone on the court wants it, then there is money,” Banken said. “I don’t agree with it to do employees this way. We are taking away every benefit these employees have. If we can’t hire qualified people, then the taxpayers suffer.”

Commissioner David Dubose wanted to know if the policy change would affect the Collective Bargaining.

“No person here will be affected,” Carlton said. “Only new hires.”

District Clerk Vickie Edgerly reminded the court, the benefits were a way to attract people for employment.

“We don’t have security from year to year,” Edgerly said. “We are a training ground. We are losing people to the private sector.”

Currently, the county has 75 employees with 20 or more years of service. There are 389 full time employees working for the county.

The court voted to table to agenda item regarding retiree health insurance benefits for employees who have not yet retired.

A contribution to the Orange County Economic Development Corporation was approved at $109,000. Membership levels with the organization have been adjusted and now allow associate members without voting rights as well as full members such as the county. Contribution amounts are currently based on per capita rates using the 2010 census data.

The amount is approximately $1.34 per person.

No action was taken on the changes to support reactivating County Court. If the court moves forward, Carlton would also over see probate cases as well as presiding over misdemeanor criminal and small civil cases, probate matters and appeals from the Justice of the Peace Court.

According to the Texas Association of Counties the duties of a County Judge are:

  • Presiding officer of the Commissioners Court.
  • Represents the county in many administrative functions.
  • Serves as budget officer in counties with fewer than 225,000 residents.
  • Most have broad judicial duties, such as presiding over misdemeanor criminal and small civil cases, probate matters and appeals from the Justice of the Peace Court.
  • Serves as head of emergency management.